Josh Jackson grew up a fan of Michigan State’s winning basketball program and played a huge part in knocking the Spartans out of the NCAA tournament.
Now it’s Landen Lucas’ turn to do the same to the team for which he rooted.
A native of Portland, Lucas’ father, Richard Lucas, a 6-foot-7 center, played at Oregon from 1987 through 1991. He averaged 15.3 points and 8.8 rebounds as a senior, 10.9 and 8.6 as a junior.
Richard wore an Oregon shirt and cheered for the Ducks throughout Thursday's one-point victory against Michigan.
“He had a Kansas shirt under it so he took that off and supported us,” Landen said after Kansas blew out Purdue in the second half Thursday night in Sprint Center. “I told him he needs to get rid that for the next 48 hours.”
Richard tweeted about how his no-lose situation.
Blood is thicker than water, even for a man who doubles as a Duck.
“Obviously, he should be rooting for us in this matchup,” Landen said. “It’ll be nice to play against them.”
Foul trouble limited Lucas to 20 minutes against Purdue, so he should be fresh, even after battling Purdue’s massive post players.
"I grew up watching them all the time, big fan," Landen said. "I’ve watched them a lot. They’re a good team, an athletic team. I feel like we match up well with them, they match up well with us.”
“I’m just going to play my game and I won’t try to force anything, but it’s going to be fun,” Lucas said. “And I’m obviously going to be ready to go because it’s the Final Four on the line, but it does add a little to it because it’s my dad’s school.”
Competitors don’t look at the other side’s strengths and view them with fear. Instead, they see them as opportunities to beat the best.
Purdue has a bigger, more physical front line than any team Kansas has faced, and 6-foot-9, 250-pound Caleb Swanigan is the most productive post player in the nation.
“This is exactly what I like,” KU senior Landen Lucas said. “I couldn’t think of any matchup that I would enjoy more than this, so I’m looking forward to it.”
He wants to play as much as possible and watch as little as possible, one more reason he will try to solve the puzzle of playing a physical brand of basketball without getting into foul trouble.
“It’s tough,” Lucas said. “It really depends on how the refs are calling it. Hopefully, they’ll let us play. If they do and they let me play the way I want to, that’ll be good. And if not, I’ll have to make in-game adjustments.”
He makes those with his ears as much as anything.
“If they’re calling it really tight, I’ve had games where I’ve let that affect me a little about taking away aggressiveness,” Lucas said. “The best I can do is listen to what they’re saying. A lot of times the refs are pretty good, especially after calling a couple of fouls and talking to you, letting you know where you could ease up a little bit more. If you just pay attention to what they’re saying, it makes it easier to adjust.”
Swanigan is a skilled passer who does a great job of passing from the post to the open 3-point shooter. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and especially Lagerald Vick haven’t always done a great job of recovering to shooters after helping out in the post.
Lucas did a nice job of explaining the key to helping without hurting.
“The big part of that is being in the initial position. If your body is already in the right spot to help, it’s easier to recover to your man afterward,” Lucas said. “If you’re helping as an afterthought, a lot of times the momentum of your body is going in the wrong position and it’s hard to get to shooters. So if everybody is in the right position to start, it’s easier to get back to the man.”
Watching Devonte’ Graham play basketball triggers memories of other marquee Bill Self players.
The chemistry between Graham and Frank Mason borders on telepathy, each knowing where the other is at all times and knowing just when to either get him the ball or make himself available to receive it. Watching that can conjure memories of identical twins Marcus and Markieff Morris, front-court versions this season’s best backcourt in the nation.
But most of all, Graham reminds me of Mario Chalmers, another KU guard who excelled at both ends of the floor and especially in transition. Both combo guards play with a great deal of confidence, which comes in handy when taking clutch shots.
Sure, they have plenty of differences. Graham is an inch taller, Chalmers blessed with longer arms. Chalmers, great at stepping into passing lanes for steals, was an even better off-the-ball defender than Graham, who might be even better on the ball than Chalmers.
Graham is more of an extrovert, lighting up an arena with his smile, Chalmers a cooler customer. Chalmers finishes with more explosiveness.
But they have plenty in common as well, including extremely deep shooting range.
Statistically, Chalmers during his KU career and Graham are more alike than different. Chalmers had a career .419 3-point accuracy rate, Graham’s is .414. Chalmers shot .545 inside the arc, Graham .470. Chalmers made at least one 3-pointer in each of the six NCAA tournament games in 2008, shooting at the same .419 percentage as his career mark by making 13 of 31 3-pointers.
Chalmers scored 12.2 points per game during his Kansas career. Since becoming a full-time starter as a sophomore, Graham has averaged 12.3 points. Chalmers averaged 4.3 assists as a junior, as does Graham in this, his junior season.
Graham’s confidence appears to be at an all-time high and he’s on a tear. He has made four 3-pointers in four of the past five games, the exception being in the Big 12 tournament loss to TCU, when he was 2 of 10 without Josh Jackson in the lineup. In the four games excluding that one, Graham has made 12 of 21, a .571 percentage.
Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig (11 made 3-pointers) is the only Sweet 16 players who has hit more 3-pointers in the tournament than Graham’s eight.
Isaac Haas stands 7-foot-2 and weighs 290 pounds and when he’s in the game he’ll be joined by either superstar Caleb Swanigan, 6-9, 250, or Vince Edwards, 6-8, 225, so there’s a reason size is the first thing that comes to mind about Purdue, Kansas’ opponent Thursday night at Sprint Center. But it’s what Purdue puts around that size that makes the Boilermakers difficult to defend. They have shooters who stretch a defense.
“If they had a bunch of non-shooters, their whole team would change,” Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said the day before the Cyclones lost to Purdue, 80-76. “But they all can make shots. That's why they can put so much pressure on you. Are you going to double? Can they get it out of the double too quick? Now they get a ball-reversal 3?. . . It's a lot more than Swanigan and Haas when you really research them and talk to other coaches. You’ve got to defend the 3-point line as well.”
Purdue ranks sixth in the nation, two spots behind Kansas, with a .404 3-point percentage. Dakota Mathis leads the team with a .458 3-point percentage, followed by Swanigan (.432), Vince Edwards (.425), Ryan Cline (.406) and P.J. Thompson (.402).
Purdue’s size will make it tougher for Kansas to score close to the basket, but if only if the Boilermakers retreat on defense quickly enough to contest shots, not an easy task against KU's unrivaled speed. Kansas played such a clean game at such a fast pace against Michigan State. That and a partisan crowd combine to make Kansas a five-point favorite. Still, Purdue's size is a concern for any team.
The day before losing to Purdue in the first round, Vermont coach John Becker was asked if had tried anything unusual to simulate Purdue’s size, such as holding a broom in the air and having his players try to score over it.
“We could try to score against a brick wall, is probably the closest thing we could do to try to emulate the size of Haas and Swanigan,” Becker said.
Few things amplify the highs and lows of sports quite as loudly as the NCAA basketball tournament.
Nobody need tell that to Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew, who shot Valparaiso onto the national map 19 years ago and who four days ago took the lead role in comforting one of his players who erred in a way that puts him at risk of seeing it replayed every time he turns on the television.
Vanderbilt’s Matthew Fisher-Davis thought his team was down a point when it was up a point and fouled Northwestern’s Bryant McIntosh with 17 seconds remaining. The Commodores didn’t recover and just like that, former Valparaiso coach Homer Drew went from having two sons coaching in the NCAA tournament to having one.
Baylor’s Scott Drew is coaching in the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in eight seasons. Drew stopped in the Kansas locker room Sunday at BOK Center in Tulsa to offer congratulations on his way to taking the court for the Bears’ game against USC.
Homer Drew was in attendance for Vandy’s loss to Northwestern in Salt Lake City and flew to Tulsa in the middle of the night to watch the Bears represent the Big 12 well with victories against New Mexico State and USC.
For the first time since interviewing him for a column I wrote in 1994 suggesting that the NCAA should investigate Valpo for going to such unethical lengths to land a commitment from that year’s Mr. Basketball in the state of Indiana. Namely, Homer was sleeping with the recruit’s mother, Homer’s wife. Bryce Drew could have played anywhere and chose to play for his dad and that decision was rewarded with one of the more memorable moments in NCAA tournament history.
The hug father and son shared after that one still gets air time. So too, will Thursday’s blunder.
“Bryce handled it beautifully in the press conference,” Homer said of his son. “He talked about it takes a team to win and a team to lose and one play does not dictate an outcome. He was really gracious and stood by Matt because without Matt we, don’t get there. He hit some big 3’s and he hit three free throws in a row when he was fouled on a 3-point shot when it got us within one. So at the end he just thought that we were one down, instead of one up, so your heart goes out to him.”
Homer refers to the players by their first names and uses “us” and “we” and “our” when talking about Vanderbilt and Baylor.
“Time heals,” Homer said. “Matt feels really bad, but the teammates came up to him. Basketball’s special in that you have friends you live and die with on campus, going to classes, on the basketball court, traveling. So their compassion back to Matt makes life go on.”
Technically, Bryce coaches his team, Scott his, but in a way Bryce, Homer and Scott join minds to coach two teams.
“Some of the most exciting times have been at about 11, 12 at night and the three of us are talking basketball. I feel very blessed to have kids who ended up not by design but ended up coaching.”
They talk by three-way conference call.
“I have eight grandkids so they helped me learn how to press the buttons and get on one,” Homer said.
Scott and Bryce have not faced each other, but Homer said he hopes to witness that in March or early April one year.
“That would be the first time brothers have ever coached against each other in an NCAA tournament. That would be something special if that would happen,” Homer said. He retired from coaching after the 2011 season and is associate athletic director at Valparaiso, which he coached into the NCAA tournament seven times.
“Bryce and Drew talk a great deal and they’re so close,” Homer said. “It makes mom and dad very proud.”
The next challenge for the Bryce, Homer, Scott brain trust is to try to figure out a way to stop Frank Martin’s South Carolina team, which not only plays tough defense, but has averaged 59.5 second-half points two games into the tournament.
So far, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self’s tree is 0-2 in the NCAA Tournament.
Kansas State bounced Danny Manning’s Wake Forest squad in Dayton and Joe Dooley’s Florida Gulf Coast University team fell short in its upset bid against Florida State.
SMU head coach Tim Jankovich can keep the tree from getting skunked. His Mustangs take on USC in a tipoff scheduled for 2:10 p.m. in the BOK Center, a rematch of a Nov. 25 game USC won, 78-73.
Junior forward Semi Ojeleye, an Ottawa High graduate and Duke transfer, was named American Athletic Conference player of the year and a second-team Academic All-American. Jankovich has multiple ties to Kansas. He was an assistant to Bill Self in his first four seasons at Kansas and left to become head coach at Illinois State, hired by current KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger.
“He’s great,” Ojeleye said of Jankovich, named AAC coach of the year. “He’s a players' coach. He’s just so relaxed. If you didn’t know he was a head coach you wouldn’t be able to tell by the way he walks around.”
Ojeleye compared and contrasted Jankovich’s style to that of Larry Brown, under whom Jankovich coached at SMU before taking over for him.
“I think it’s a little more up-tempo,” Ojeleye said. “Coach Brown kind of winced every time someone shot a 3. Coach (Jankovich) wants us to have the offensive freedom. But I think on the defensive end they are pretty much exactly the same. They want us to guard, play together. I think they really hang their hat on the defensive end. They’re similar and different, but they’re both great coaches.”
Jankovich has a brain built for X’s and O’s. A few years before college football teams began running it, Jankovich wondered why they didn’t use what became known as the Wildcat formation. He likes to tinker with offensive basketball X’s and O’s as well.
“I don’t know how many different, not just sets, but base offenses we’ve put in this year,” Ojeleye said. “We’ve tried three out, two in, we’ve tried a high-low offense, four out, one in, ball-screen, I mean we just continue to adapt based on what types of teams we’re about to play in trying to attack matchups. Even during games, if he sees something he’ll put something in real quick to try to go at that matchup, so he definitely adapts to what’s coming at him.”
Ojeleye said Jankovich has the gift of communicating complex things in “the simplest terms, and I think we have a high-IQ team, as he calls it, that can really understand it and implement things on the fly.”
SMU (30-4) is riding a 16-game winning streak and Jankovich throws some of the credit for that the way of Ojeleye for the hard work he put in during his one-and-a-half year layoff after transferring from Duke and then watching the school receive sanctions that included a ban from participating in the 2016 NCAA tournament.
“If you want to be a player what else is there to do?” said Jankovich, who played at Kansas State. “But you know what, there a lot of guys around the country, they have a lot of time, too, and they’re not in there (the gym working on their games).
“Sitting out, after your school work’s done, what else do you have to do? Don’t give me the video games thing. Don’t be good at that. That’s not doing you any good. I don’t care how many you scored in the video game. Get over here and work on your real game, and he definitely does that.”
A conscience pang made Jankovich confess that he too once played video games: Space Invaders (released in 1978) and Pac-Man (1980), which at the time were considered unbelievable advances from Pong (1972).
Lacking the low-post scoring it has most seasons, Kansas has relied more heavily on 3-point shooting than at any point during coach Bill Self’s 14 years at the school and with good results.
Kenpom.com tracks various statistics through the years, including a “style component” that shows what percentage of field goals attempted are of the 3-point variety.
The percentage has been below 30 in eight seasons, above it in six. This season’s 35.5 percent mark is a high, during Self’s tenure, compared to a low of 26.1 percent in 2006-07, a year that ended in San Jose with Kansas losing to UCLA in an Elite Eight game. Last season’s 32.8 percent had been the high mark.
The 3-pointer has served Kansas well this season, with a .405 percentage that ranks eighth in the nation.
The question now becomes will the Jayhawks’ 3-point shooting touch travel well? Thus far, KU has not shot nearly as well away from Allen Fieldhouse (.358) as on campus (.454). Kansas went 14-3 away from Allen Fieldhouse, so the Jayhawks still found ways to win when treys weren’t falling, but the home/away shooting disparity does underscore the importance of playing consistently strong defense throughout the tournament.
In four games in Sprint Center, site of the NCAA Midwest regional, Kansas shot a combined .311 from 3-point range against UAB, Georgia, Davidson and TCU.
A look at individuals' shooting percentages in games played off campus this season and (overall):
Josh Jackson: .463 (.377)
Frank Mason: .392 (.487)
Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk: .382 (.401)
Lagerald Vick: .317 (.383)
Devonte’ Graham: .292 (.379).
Mason and Graham have the most NCAA tournament experience. Mason, although he made 5 of 7 3-pointers in the tournament as a sophomore, is a .292 3-point shooter in the NCAA tournament for his career. Graham has shot .346 from long distance in the tourney.
Olpe — Kansas enters the NCAA tournament with a 28-4 record, including a 5-2 mark against schools that were ranked at the time the Jayhawks played them.
Since ranked teams generally play better defense than unranked ones, let’s take a look at the relatively small sample to see which KU players’ talents translate the best to tougher competition.
Not surprisingly, Josh Jackson’s performance stands up, even improves in some areas, against ranked teams. Jackson averaged 17 points, 6.3 rebounds and had a .524 3-point accuracy rate in the seven games. Overall, Jackson averaged 16.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and shot .377 from 3-point range.
Frank Mason also performed at a similar level vs. ranked and unranked foes in most categories, except not nearly as well in 3-point shooting (.487 overall, .310 vs. ranked teams). Mason averaged 20.8 points overall, 21.9 vs. ranked squads. He had a slightly better assists-to-turnover ratio vs. ranked foes (2.3) than overall (2.0).
With the exception of Jackson, the biggest decline when comparing unranked vs. overall came in 3-point shooting: Svi Mykhailiuk (.401/.267), Lagerald Vick (.383/.263), Devonte’ Graham (.379/.321) and the team overall (.405, .325).
Well, that's it for now. I’m going to put the headphones on and Listen to Neil Young’s “The Last Trip to Tulsa,” while wondering if he found himself as badly lost behind the wheel as Matt Tait just found himself on our trip to Tulsa. I no longer need to wonder what all the small Kansas towns I’ve heard about through the years look like. We’ve hit pretty much every one of them. Some are beautiful, others not my thing. Not to worry. Benton Smith has switched seats with M@ T8, so we’ll get there eventually.
Oh well, everything happens for a reason and maybe the reason we strayed so far off the direct path to Tulsa was so that Tait could hear this half of a conversation: “I looked out the window and there was a coyote. So my daughter said, ‘What you going to do, Daddy, shoot it?’ I said, ‘That’s a hell of an idea.’ So I reached behind the front seat, grabbed a rifle and I shot the SOB.’ ”
What a touching family moment. Here’s hoping that inspires a Hallmark card of some sort, perhaps even a holiday special TV show to watch while wrapped in blankets, huddled around the fireplace.
Let’s not over-analyze this. Kansas lost to TCU in the first round of the Big 12 tournament because its most versatile performer was sitting out a one-game suspension.
Josh Jackson will be back in the lineup for the first round of the NCAA tournament and the Jayhawks will be back to normal.
As for whether it was better for Kansas to bow out right away or to win the Big 12 tourney, that probably doesn’t make much a difference. The Jayhawks won it in 2008 and went on to win the national title. They didn’t make it to the Big 12 championship game in 2012, losing to Baylor by nine points in the semifinal, and went on to play in the national-title game.
The assumption that because Frank Mason is averaging 36.2 minutes and Devonte’ Graham 35.3 this team needs rest is a little overblown.
Mason doesn’t in any way consider the loss a hidden blessing.
“No, not at all,” Mason said. “I think we all feel good. It doesn’t matter how many minutes we play. I think coach does a good job with limiting our time in practice during the week. I think everybody’s bodies feel good and fatigue is not an excuse.”
Mason knows the drill on how to stay fresh.
“I think we just need to take care of our bodies, stay hydrated, eat right, get your rest and I think those things help you have energy,” Mason said. “I think every player gets fatigued at some point in time, but during the game you just have to dig down and find extra energy and just make it happen.”
He and his teammates won’t have any trouble sharpening their minds and games in time for the NCAA tournament.
“Get back, watch film, don’t give up easy baskets or second-chance points and just play every possession like it’s game point,” Mason said, repeating the formula that has led to Kansas having a 28-4 record to this point.
Where did Kansas miss Jackson the most?
“Everywhere,” Mason said. “On the offensive end and defensive end. We just missed his presence. He steals extra possessions. He’s a great rebounder, great passer. He’s just a great player.”
This was not a difficult loss to understand, but that didn’t make it easy to stomach.
“Not at all,” Mason said. “No loss is easy to take.”
Not surprisingly, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi still has Kansas as the No. 1 seed in the Midwest, a regional that will be played at Sprint Center.
So the loss to TCU didn’t do much to hurt or help Kansas.
The bags under my eyes come courtesy of ESPN radio partners Andy Katz and Seth Greenberg, whose show is called "Courtside with Katz and Coach G." I met Greenberg once, more than 25 years ago when he was coaching at Long Beach State, Katz once, about 10 years ago. Neither one would know me if we shared an elevator.
Yet, if I never chat with either one again, I guarantee I’ll spend a ton of time with them. Their college basketball podcast is archived weekly and it’s tremendous because they let their guests talk, don’t feel the need to dumb down the show and they’re such good listeners their guests really open up to them.
I found their archived podcasts Tuesday night and listened well into this morning. Two in particular captured my interest because they had connections to coaches who used to be in the Big 12, the first with South Carolina coach Frank Martin, formerly of Kansas State, the other with Tim Jankovich, a former Bill Self assistant now in charge of the SMU program. Both coaches will earn good seeds on Selection Sunday.
Martin, the son of Cuban immigrants, joined Katz and Greenberg on Nov. 26, a couple of days after his team defeated Syracuse by double digits. That game took place a day after the death of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
Martin’s and his wife’s families were in Brooklyn for the Syracuse game and he shared some of what they discussed. Martin didn’t hold back anything in airing his disdain for Castro.
“Being around my family and my wife’s family, who are also immigrants, like we all are in this country, being around them and then finding out about the Castro news and then being able to reflect, we reflect out of joy. We don’t reflect out of sorrow. Our joy is that we live in this country,” Martin told Katz and Greenberg. “Yes, we have our flaws here. Yes, we have our issues here. Yes, there are a lot of things that need to get better. But we’re all allowed to express ourselves so we can make it better. And we all need to learn how to co-exist with each other so we can make it better.”
Katz and Greenberg stayed out of the way. Smart move.
“We’ve made progress,” Martin continued. “It’s nowhere near where it needs to be, but when I hear people in this country applaud Castro, it makes me sick to my stomach. You can argue that him and Hitler are the two biggest tyrants that we’ve had in the last hundred years. What he has done to demean people, to prevent people, think about this, Seth: Everyone’s talking about he’s reformed education. No. He chooses who he educates so that they can help him remain in power, so they can help his government remain strong. The rest of the people, he wants to keep them ignorant and when I say ignorant I don’t mean uneducated, I mean not knowing how the rest of the world has it, not knowing how people have rights in other places because if people did know ,then you’d have situations like he had in the 70s, when he had uprising after uprising to (overtake) him because people did know what was going on and then you know what he did?”
Katz and Greenberg let him answer his own question: “He created the Mariel Boatlift (a mass emigration of Cubans from Mariel Harbor to the United States that lasted six months in 1980) himself because his jails were overcrowded because anyone who said anything got put in the firing line or put in jail, so he said, ‘OK, I’m going to let you take an uncle on this boat and I’m going to charge you so much but you have to take these three other people.’ Those three other people were people who were in jail. And that’s kind of the way he emptied his jails. So for anyone to applaud anything that man stood for, that disgusts me. For my family, (his death) was a moment of joy. It was a moment of joy because we lost half our family. My grandmother lost her husband. My grandmother went from being a housewife to working 12, 14 hours a day in a factory. But you know what, this country gave us a chance. They didn’t judge us that we didn’t speak English. We didn’t get judged because our skin color’s a little different than whatever people want to look at. We were given an opportunity to live with freedoms that had been taken away from my family and now my uncle’s gone from carrying boxes at the Port of Miami as a senior in high school to being one of the most influential people in the Port of Miami.
“My mother on her own fought and raised my sister and me and now here I am a guy who got a public education for free by the way at the high school level, paid his own way through college, now I’m leading a basketball team for the University of South Carolina. So we reflected in a great, great way.”
Martin went on to talk of memories of as a 6-year-old watching with his grandmother the 1972 Olympics, in which boxer Teofilo Stevenson won a gold medal and she cried tears of joy and then sorrow.
“The one that never left me was watching her cry when the Russians cheated the United States in 1972 because because of the Russians, Castro became powerful,” Martin said. “Cuba would not become liberated because of his alliance with Russia. My grandmother never forgave the Russians for that and I’ll never forget her crying. I had no understanding why at the time. It resonates strongly with me now.”
Jankovich’s Monday appearance wasn’t as heavy, just sound basketball talk about a coach who has a 27-4 record and relies heavily on transfers, including Semi Ojeleye from Ottawa High and for two years Duke. Ojeleye averages 18.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and shoots .431 from 3-point territory for SMU. As a reserve at Duke, Ojeleye totaled 143 minutes in two seasons.
“He grew up in Kansas and I’m from Kansas and our associate head coach is from Kansas, so both of us pay a lot of attention to our home state of course and we watched him in high school and thought he was a really, really good talent,” Jankovich said of Ojeleye, recruited by Kansas both out of high school and after transferring from Duke. “Given what happened at Duke, we did not know he would be nearly as good as he is. We thought he was a good player. We thought he could be a real good player, but to be doing what he’s done in his first year for us has been amazing. And I do want to say he’s as hard a woker putting his time in away from the court, putting his own time in as anyone I’ve ever coached. If ever someone should be deservedly rewarded, it’s him. He’s like a machine. He just never stops.”
On some podcasts, the hosts never stop talking. I like how well Katz and Greenberg listen.